I've met a few and I'd like to tell the story of one as it also figures into my views of adoption.
While in college, I lived in England for six months on the exchange program. Echewing the dorms with Americans, I lived with a British family who really treated me as their own. It was six months that changed my life, in no small part due to the extended friends and family of my British family. People like M.
M was a World War II Veteran. He was a living history book. He had fought in many of the major battles. He met his wife at the Battle of Dunkirk when, during the rescue operation, she manned one of the "little boats" and saved the lives over fifty men. R, corresponded with every man she rescued. M, to the day I met him, believed that the letters were magic, as everyone she corresponded with came home.
M told me about his promotion through the ranks due to the simple fact that he hadn't died. Also he was good with communications, and that led to him being "on loan" from the one division of the army to the group that liberated Bergen Belsen.
When he talks about "Belsen" his voice goes down low. I was told by his son that he still has nightmares. He talks about the smell. Miles before they got there they could smell it. By this time he knew what burning flesh smelled like, and he couldn't imagine the horror until it was there in front of his eyes. I'll quote what I remember.
"By this point, I had killed. I had killed more men than I could remember and that sat poorly with me. When I went past those barbed wire fences...it was as if I had gone into hell. One of my men took out his gun looking for any officer he could find. He found two and shot them--execution style. I did not tell him he was wrong. To this day I do not know if he was. I wanted to start shooting. I wanted them to pay for the pain of seeing this atrocity. It was a scant few moments later than some of the skeletons that I had thought were dead began to move. They weren't dead. Just as I realized this the medics came around telling us that we were not to feed them. How could we not feed these hungry people? So we did what we lot are best at. We made tea. We served it to the men and women of Belsen with all the respect we would have served Winston Churchill..and then..."
When he talks about this part his voice gets stronger, and yet softer. He talks about seeing a child--tottering on legs that were like toothpicks towards him. He said something in Polish and then fainted away at M's feet. Something snapped in M. Yes, there was death all around him but this child was not going to die. He was not going to let it happen. He scooped up the baby ran for the general's medic. The medic looked at the child's face and started to work on him. The medic got a doctor and they were able to make his condition stable. M. sat with the child as he slept.
For breaks he went out trying to find any of his people. He wrote down what he remembered of what the baby (as the doctor said that he was probably between 3 and 5 years old) said. He said it over and over until a woman asked if he spoke the language. He didn't but he found out it was Polish. The woman spoke a little English, and fluent French which was how they communicated. He asked about the child and the woman didn't know the child. He asked if she could tell him what the boy said before he fainted. When he spoke the words the woman started to cry. At seeing this woman cry M was frantic. What did the boy say that could bring a woman who had suffered more than he could imagine to tears. The woman looked M in the eyes. "He said, 'Daddy, I knew you would come for me.'"
At this point in the story, I started crying. I was sitting with M, his wife, one of his daughters and her husband and M's son and his wife. I then looked at M's son. He looked nothing like M, nor M's wife. He towered over them both, standing 6 ft 5. I could not imagine this man a tiny child on legs that looked like toothpicks. M's son saw my look and pulled back his shirt to reveal a number on his arm.
"It means I went through Auchwitz." He said. Pointing to the A in the number. "I know people protected me probably at the expense of their own life."
M took up the story again. Once he heard that, he knew knew that this was the reason for him being in this whole conflict. His wife was pregnant with their first child back in England, how would she react? What about his people? He had to find them and either get their blessing or love him enough to relinquish him. M got permission to stay with the boy, (A), and search. He sent a telegram to his wife explaining what happened. He got a four word telegram in response. "Bring our son home."
For years after A came back to England, they were worried that someone would come for him. To the best of their ability they raised him as a Jew. His was the first Bar-Mitzvah they had ever attended, but A said, it was fun. When he grew older, he went on searches. He found people who saw him, but he was always in another cell block, to their recollections. He has few of his own memories. There is a certain perfume that he says calms him. He cannot stand crowds, nor to have his face covered with any type of fabric.
He wishes he knew how old he was. I asked when his birthday was. A said he didn't know, but they used "the date that my father came for me." He said he remembered waking up in a white room and seeing his father sleeping on the floor next to his cot. A says that he decided that the man would be warm, so he snuggled against him to get warm. M remembers how he woke up to a little child burrowing into his arms and he said "I am a father now."
I was 21 when I heard this story for the first time as I sat with M and his family. A is his only son of five children.
M has since passed away and A is writing a book from his father's journals he's trying "do do both of my fathers proud." I have no doubt he will succeed.